by Greg Stolz Brisbane Courier Mail
September 23, 2009 12:00am
HE'S one of Australia's top "watermen" - a champion board paddler, renowned big-wave surfer and veteran lifeguard.
But none of Jamie Mitchell's experience could prepare him for the shock of a humpback whale breaching next to him during a paddle off the Tweed Coast.
It might be a whale of a tale were it not for the remarkable photographic evidence of his close encounter with the giant of the deep.
"I had goosebumps . . . I was in shock and awe," Mitchell said.
"I've seen whales out in the ocean before but never up that close . . . It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Mitchell, 32, was riding his stand-up paddleboard off Kingscliff on Monday, filming for a new television project, when the migrating whales surfaced.
"I heard a blow and saw the water spout up," he said. "They just kept coming closer. They were playing and breaching and flapping their tails just metres away."
Having ridden some of the world's biggest waves and won Hawaii's gruelling Molokai paddleboard marathon a record eight times, Mitchell is rarely intimidated by anything the ocean throws up.
But he admitted to being shocked when one humpback, estimated at 8m and weighing about 30 tonne, surfaced right next to him.
"It was so big and so close," he said. "A couple of times, the whales were right underneath me. I was thinking to myself: 'If they breach now, I'm in strife'. But I think they knew exactly what they were doing and were just playing with me."